Fresh bid to build new fleet support ships to supply Royal Navy's two aircraft carriers

DEFENCE chiefs have unveiled a new £1.6bn competition to construct three new fleet solid support ships that will keep the Royal Navy’s two aircraft carrier stocked with supplies while at sea.

By Tom Cotterill
Tuesday, 25th May 2021, 11:05 am

The effort, launched by the Ministry of Defence this week, marks the second attempt to acquire the new breed of Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships, following a previously failed bid in 2019.

As previously reported, the initial effort to agree a deal on the new 40,000-tonne ships drew criticism from political leaders, who said the vessels could be constructed by foreign shipyards.

Union leaders have since called on the government to ensure any work on the new breed of support ships – expected to be delivered by 2032 – takes place in British yards.

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Pictured: HMS Queen Elizabeth ailing past Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth for her maiden operational deployment. The aircraft carrier will be supported by the new proposed supply ships. Photo: LPhot Rory Arnold/Royal Navy

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HMS Queen Elizabeth leaves Portsmouth on her maiden operational mission

Announcing the latest competition, defence secretary Ben Wallace said: ‘As shipbuilding tsar, I am delighted to launch the competition for these crucial fleet solid support ships.

‘These vessels embody our commitment to a truly global presence by supporting the Royal Navy’s operations around the world.

‘The competition reaffirms our dedication to invest in shipbuilding and support jobs across the UK maritime industry.’

Gary Smith, general secretary of GMB Scotland, said the project could drive the ‘economic recovery’ of British shipyards and urged all work to take place in the UK.

‘The award of the solid support vessel contracts to a consortium of UK manufacturers is the key to transforming our shipbuilding industry, and the working-class communities that depend on it,’ Mr Smith said.

‘But it’s not enough for the minister to say that a significant proportion of the build and assembly work should be carried out in the UK. That leaves the door open for the export of jobs to the rest of the world and would be incompatible with a levelling-up agenda.

‘The government must learn the lessons from the previous award of Royal Navy tankers to South Korea, and in offshore wind manufacturing, where we have outsourced billion-pound contracts and tens of thousands of jobs to Asia and Europe.’

Interested companies are now invited to register their interest to receive a pre-qualification questionnaire.

Successful respondents will be invited to tender for competitive procurement contracts.

Any work to build the vessels is unlikely to take place in Portsmouth.

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